Reading Alhaji Lai Mohammed, Nigeria’s Information Minister’s “Hate Speech, Fake News and National Unity”, Intervention concluded in the feature article “Where is the Language Game in Containing Hate Speech in Nigeria” (July 23rd, 2017) that the Federal Government is simply unable to overwhelm the hate speech phenomenon by the power of framing of the issue by which all modern governments are constituted to lead. As such, the FG whose discourse of power should have been leading the society is itself overwhelmed into complaining bitterly that the social media has stolen the thunder from it.
Reading the communiqué Monday night, (July 24th, 2017) from the meeting of commissioners of Information to which Alhaji Lai had delivered his address, Intervention found confirmation for the view that the Federal Government of Nigeria has lost its way in governmentality. To compensate the loss of power through the instrumentality of the ‘linguistic/textual turn’, the FG has turned to legislative stealth for control of spaces of the postmodern society. It is, at the moment, focusing on two of such most vital spaces: the social media and the non-governmental organisations, (NGOs).
But the post modern world is marked out by its plurality, ambiguity and complexity that multiplicity of views is considered strategic to national security in the same way that opening the inter-discursive space is prioritised in conflict management. Information and communication technology which came to define the post modern imagination has provided the means by which multiplicity of views and inter-discursivity have been beautifully enhanced. The resort to gagging and muzzling in the name of legislating democracy is, therefore, shocking and does advertise desperation somewhere. And it raises the question as to why three key factors, among others, are meeting but not mixing into anything more imaginative, exceptional or emancipatory but jejune outcomes such as an attempt at formal control of social media (and NGOs) in Nigeria in the first quarter of the 21st century?
The first and overarching of the factors is the Buhari Presidency under which all these are happening. Buhari has absolutely enjoyed sympathy from a certain category of voters who saw in him the last statist around following his overthrow for reasons connected to opposition to devaluation in the 1980s. Buhari came and, for whatever reasons, that ‘New Deal’ in the developmental state is missing. Yet, that is the only arena that can get any African leader into the status of the exceptional. Nothing else can. Of course, this is beyond the level of comprehension of the multitude who are absolutising anti-corruption war. But that’s understandable for followers and friends of the president who are not about state interventionism and rapid transformation through industrial strategy.
Secondly, this time around, Buhari came to power armed with a Professor of Law who attended the London School of Economics and Political Science, one of the twelve or so powerful colleges within the University of London and who had supervised a reform process as a Commissioner for Justice at a much lower level. There can be no better deputy to a retired General under civilian rule. Thirdly, it is a regime that has had the advantage/disadvantage of a ‘godfather’ called Alhaji Mamman Daura whose leading identity marker is intolerance for governmental intrusiveness. This is in the sense that this is the same Alhaji Mamman Daura who was the Managing Director (or was it editor) of the New Nigerian when the paper wrote its infamous editorial “Is this Government Mad?” in the 1970s. There might have broken out a face-off between the ‘Lion King’ and a combination of Hyenas and Jackals but this is the second year of the government.
The FG should be careful. Anyone who tries to restrict or impose the terms by which the social media or NGOs may be part of the process of social change demonstrates generational, professional and ideological sensitivity that cannot see how embarrassing the Nigerian situation is. The approach now is to be less suspicious, open up the space, let the great conversation that defines the age across the world go on. Government’s task is to be able to frame the issues in a narrative whose evident superiority would be the decisive factor rather than resort to legislative stealth. The social media is here to stay and no new laws are needed beyond laws which already exist. Or it would be rule of raw rather than rule of law.